It’s day five with no end in sight. Life as we know it is over, and I may not make it out of this alive. If I don’t, tell Shadow I love him.
I’ve been up for almost three hours, and I’ve had to answer four tech questions for my father already. Now, I know this isn’t a big deal because many of us have older parents who are uncomfortable with technology. Let’s throw some additional wrenches into this shitshow. One: I don’t read Chinese; my father’s phone is in Chinese. Two: I don’t use cell phones for any serious work because it makes me angry, scared, and confused. I like a full-functioning keyboard and all my keyboard shortcuts. Three: One of the problems has to do with PowerPoint, which I don’t use at all.
So. We have the comedy of me pointing at something on the screen and asking my father what it says. He doesn’t speak English on the regular any longer and hasn’t for at least two decades, so he struggles to translate the Chinese into English. Then, I try to figure out the equivalent in English before poking his phone, mostly in random.
This is fairly funny, but it’s also irritating because both my parents expect me to drop whatever I’m doing and help them RIGHT NOW. Yes, I know their emergency is not my emergency, but Asian parenting training is real, yo. You don’t say ‘no’ to your Asian parent. You just don’t. I’ve gotten much better at it, but it’s hard not to slip. Plus, my mother has a singular mind when it comes to, well, anything. And she has no ability to rate how urgent something is. If she wants it done, then it’s urgent. It’s hard because my ‘office’ is my couch, which is in the living room. So they feel free just to wander in and ask for whatever it is they need or just to chat.
Small annoyance: My mother is like a caster of her own thoughts. You know that inner voice that is constantly narrating what you do and think? That’s my mom. “I’m going to cut the vegetables now. First I have to soak them, though. I soak them for twenty minutes to get the–what do you call it?” That’s an actual question which she waits for me to answer. I know what she wants, but I’m not going to give it to her. I am not. No, no, no. I am not going to say toxins. “I leave it for twenty minutes, and–” I cannot tell you what follows because by this time, my eyes have glazed over, and my pulse is nonexistent.
I know that I’m making all this sound amusing (and it is in retrospect, it kinda is), but it’s mostly irritating at the time. The last few times they’ve been here, I’ve been able to let this shit roll off my back, but for whatever reason, it’s been harder this time. It started when my mom called me a few days before the visit. We were just talking about whatever, and then she said something that was patently a statement of denial. I was telling my brain, “Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it,” as my brain formulated a statement that I knew wouldn’t make things better and might actually make things worse. My brain wouldn’t let me not say it, and, yes, it didn’t make things any better.
It’s been that way so far during this visit. There have been times when I can’t keep my mouth shut even though I know it’s not going to make things any better, but, honestly, I’m tired of secrets. We grew up with them my whole childhood, and I really thought we were done with all this shit. But, no. Forty years later, it’s the same stupid secret that everybody knows, but we have to pretend we don’t.
Why does this matter? Because all the aforementioned amusing anecdotes are poisoned by this secret. It permeates every conversation, even though it’s unspoken. My mom has gone from not knowing about the secret (by knowing, I mean admitting) to tacitly admitting to knowing the secret back to being in denial. I know the secret because I saw something on his phone when he asked me to fix it while he was….yeah.
I’ve known the secret for…two years? Three? Something like that. For the most part, it doesn’t affect me personally because I don’t live with him and only see him once a year, but the biggest issue for me is how it affects my mother.
Here’s the thing. My mother signed a contract decades ago that she would put up with this shit no matter what. I’ve said it before, but I used to beg her to divorce my father when I was a preteen/teenager. She refused, and this late in the game, she’s even more entrenched in the marriage than she ever was. I’m her confidante. You can tell where this is going. She tells me her frustrations, and while I can empathize, it’s hard to say anything because she has no leverage. Correction. She has leverage, but she’s not willing to use it.
Still, I could deal with all that because it’s her life, and she’s accepted that this is the way it’s going to be. However, he is all. she. can. talk. about. I would estimate that 90% of our conversations is centered around him. I’m not blameless. I contribute to the problem and the conversations, but it’s difficult to change the subject because it’s all she wants to talk about.
In addition, my father is struggling with some health issues, and he’s in denial over some of them. One is dementia. It’s pretty clear that he’s losing his mental faculties, but he refuses to even acknowledge it. There’s a test that he can do, but in Taiwan, it’s labeled the Alzheimer’s test, and Alzheimer is seen as a way of losing face in Taiwan. It’s not something that happens to you, but it’s a sign of a weak will. So, it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want it to be splashed all around the town. However, they changed the name to a neurological test, and he’s still balking at taking it.
It’s hard. He totally lost it one day and started shouting at my mom (with me in the middle of it). It was like a switch had been flipped, and he looked nothing like himself. Had it been just the two of us, I would have walked away, but I couldn’t because my mother was there and his anger was mostly directed at her. I asked why he was shouting and told him to stop it. He yelled, “Why should I?!” with a hateful look in his eyes. I told him he was being unreasonable, and I was yelling by this point, too. I told him he did not get to speak to my mother like that, and I was leaving. He started throwing a tantrum, shouting that he’d go back to Taiwan and never return again.
I have to say, in my brain, I was thinking, “Good. Do it. Get the fuck away from me.” I didn’t say that, though, and after a few more minutes, I walked away. My heart was pounding, and I had an Adrenalin rush. I had no idea what the hell was going on, but I was freaked out of my mind. When my parents returned from their appointment, my mother came to me and apologized for the ‘misunderstanding’. I said to her, “You’re not the one who should apologize, but it’s fine.” Did my father ever apologize? Of course not. Does he even remember what happened? Not sure.
See, I know something about dementia, and one of the symptoms is a sudden change in personality. You’re not supposed to take it personal, but that’s really fucking hard to do. The problem is as I told my mother, I don’t feel worried on my behalf. I can defend myself if need be, but I’m worried about her. There has been no physical abuse that I know of between them, but I know that the negative behaviors can increase as the dementia does.
The biggest problem is that I can’t completely relax while they’re here. I’m so used to it being just me and Shadow–which is how I like it. I also have a hard time sleeping with other people around except for a select few. My whole schedule is upset, and I’m such a creature of habit, I don’t deal well with that. At all. I also haven’t played a game since they’ve been here. Partly because it feels weird and partly because I’m out in the open. Maybe it’ll drive me back to my desktop, but it’s highly improbable.
In addition, they want to know why Americans do this, that, or the other thing. I just tweeted this:
So not only do I have to be the Asian representative for Asian culture to Americans, I have to be the American representative for American culture to my parents.
I AM NOT ALL AMERICANS AND I DON’T KNOW ALL THE AMERICAN TRADITIONS
— Minna Hong (@asiangrrlMN) July 8, 2018
They are codependent in many ways, including in getting each other worked up over some perceived indignity, no matter how slight. It’s tiring. I’m tired. I’m done with this, but I don’t know how to extricate myself from the whole situation. It’s entrenched, and it goes back to when I was a young girl. It’s gotten better in the past few years, but it seems to have slid this year. Probably, not coincidentally, because my father’s health is deteriorating.
Also, the talking. So much the talking. Them between each other in the other room. Them to me. A lot. Too much. Oh my god the talking.
Tell Shadow I love him.